|Building a Gato class
submarine - and getting paid for it was an opportunity I coulnt pass up. And
this wasnt just any Gato sub, but a BIG 1/72nd scale Gato. Submarines
were still evolving at the beginning of WW2. When a boat came in for refit or repairs,
problems noted while on mission were corrected. This could involve everything from
upgrading weapons to (sometimes drastically) modifying the conning tower in order to
reduce the boats surface profile. It should also be mentioned that US submarine
commanders were allowed considerable discretion in the choice of external weapons and
modifications. Not surprisingly, a "no two alike" US submarine fleet was the
I started with the Scale Shipyard
1/72nd Gato/Balao kit. Building one
of these kits is much like building an old vacuum-formed kit - the basic shapes are there
but the rest is up to you. Scale Shipyard gives you good basics with which to start. The
kits weapons were from the HR products and included cast metal 5" deck gun, a
40mm Bofors mount and two 20mm A/A guns. Also included were resin cast deck hatches,
capstans, rudders, dive planes, metal chocks and anchor.
Both the hull and conning tower are basic, but
accurate. Scale Shipyard supplies them with the halves already mated, saving you the
sloppy chore of working with fiberglass resin. No deck or bracing of any kind was
provided, so my vacuum form experience would come in handy. Gato class hulls didn't vary
much, so most of the work on the Scale Shipyard kit involved conning tower modifications.
The kits tower is of the tall, enclosed bridge type typical of early war Gato boats.
My client specified the open bridge typical of 1943 (and thereafter) boats. Using the
excellent Floating Drydock plans as a guide, I cut and lowered the towers front
section, as well as opening the rear of the tower to expose the interior. Some of my
references showed the sparse detail in the forward bridge section, so I added that as
periscopes were characteristic of Gato class boats. Accurately simulating these
instruments and their prominent support bracing was essential to getting the right
"look". I fashioned them using successively smaller diameters of telescoping
brass tubing, with the slender final section fabricated from solid brass rod. I then built
a deck in the conning tower and drilled holes in the deck and top to accept the brass
tube, which was glued below the deck. The periscope bracing was made from plastic and
brass rod to match photos. 5" ammunition storage tubes were scratchbuilt below the
forward 20mm mount. Assorted hatches were fashioned from plastic sheet and a flagstaff was
added to the aft tower structure. Exterior access ladders are railroad grab bars from a
local railroad hobby shop. The SD antenna tower aft of the conning tower has a basswood
base with brass rod drilled into the top. The SS radar was scratchbuilt using plastic
sheet and rod.
Conning tower railing was made entirely from brass rod. I used a trick from the Mike
Ashey book to make stanchions of identical length. I cut a section of square basswood to
the desired stanchion length. It was then a matter of standing the basswood section on its
end, laying my sprue cutter on top, and clipping each stanchion. The railings are
.06" brass rod super glued to each stanchion. The super glue made a very convincing
The conning tower out of the way, it was time for
the hull. A sturdily mounted, non-flexing hull was essential, so I added a 3 piece
of 2x2 pine parallel to the keel, gluing in place with fiberglass resin. See the section
drawing to see how it was mounted to the base. The hull needed extensive bracing port to
starboard to prevent flexing, which would crack the deck.. Plastruct "L"
sections were the solution. I glued them to the top of the hull where they formed a lip
upon which the deck could be placed. The thick, sheet styrene sub deck was then dropped
in. US submarine decks are comprised of long, slender teakwood sections. I thought for
some time about how to simulate these teak planks, and once again the answer was at the
railroad shop. Vacuum-formed plastic sheet, used to simulate HO scale house siding, was a
bit out of scale but nevertheless filled the bill. It was quite realistic - and easy. The
only tricky part was the alignment of the planks end-to-end.
I next lined the deck perimeter with plastic strip, faired into the hull with super
glue. One last comment about the decking, there was no need to worry about the seams where
the plastic sheets butted against each other. The real boat had them too! How lucky can
It was then a matter of
adding sections of plastic sheet to represent the various access doors and engine room
hatches. The antenna booms were made from brass rod both fore and aft. The lifeline
stanchions were made as described earlier. The rails however, were made from .06 nylon
fishing line and attached to the stanchions with super glue. The model was painted Measure
32/9SS as shown in the Floating Drydock book "USN Camouflage 1 of the WW2 Era".
The entire model was coated with Testors Dull coat from a spray can, much faster on a
model of this size.
The final touch was the American flag at the rear of the conning tower. I used a
1/192-scale flag from Duane Fowler's excellent "Axis and Allies" decal sheet
available from Tom's Modelworks. You can count every one of the 48 stars on the blue
field. I carefully cut the decal from the sheet and applied it to a piece of aluminum
foil. I trimmed the foil to meet the edges of the first flag side. It was then a matter of
applying flag to the other side. I feared the decal would crack when folded to a realistic
shape, but this was not a problem.
The Gato class sub wasn't nearly as difficult as I thought it would be. I really wish I
could have kept it for myself. The experience gained building this Scale Shipyard kit will
serve me well on my next one, and there will definitely be a next one.
|More Photos of Rusty White's 1/72nd Gato
Class WW2 Fleet Sub